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colorful painting of a man

Ming Dynasty Chinese art

Ming emperors unify Chinese art

After the Mongols were thrown out of China, and the Chinese emperors took over again in the Ming Dynasty of the late 1300s AD, the Ming emperors wanted to build up Chinese nationalism. Instead of being part of the huge Mongol Empire, now China would be an independent country.

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The emperors wanted to strengthen China’s identity by creating one unified art style for all of China. Official art styles were developed at the court, abandoning Yuan Dynasty ideas and returning to earlier Song Dynasty styles.

bowl with blue patterns on white background

Ming Dynasty porcelain bowl

What was Song Dynasty art like?

In the Song Dynasty tradition, Chinese artists painted realistic landscapes using ink washes.

The Silk Road and Chinese art

But you couldn’t really turn back the clock. Artists used more and more color. The Silk Road was still a powerful influence on Chinese art in the later Middle Ages. Rich, educated men continued to work in the Yuan Dynasty style.

The Silk Road and international trade

The creation of this sort of painting was a sort of performance, to show how easily and efficiently you could do create an image, and how individual your own interpretation of a traditional image could be. People wanted to feel the physical presence of the artist by looking at the movements the artist had made.

Islam and Ming Dynasty Chinese art

Many new Islamic art ideas also continued to influence Chinese artists. Many Ming vases and bowls show influence from Islamic pottery, including the famous Ming blue-and-white wares.

More about Islamic pottery

Where at first Islamic white glazes had copied Chinese porcelain, now Chinese potters copied Islamic glazes. Chinese lacquer became much more creative and beautiful under Central Asian influence.

What is lacquer?

This colorful lacquered box borrows from Islamic cloisonne techniques of making little metal walls and coloring them in with enamel. The red box seems to draw its inspiration from elaborate Indian wood carving.

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Bibliography and further reading about Ming Dynasty art:

The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, by Jessica Rawson and others (1996). Rawson is a curator at the British Museum, and she uses the collection of the British Museum to illustrate this book. Library Journal calls it “easily the best introductory overview of Chinese art to appear in years”.

Art in China (Oxford History of Art Series), by Craig Clunas (1997). Not specifically , but a good introduction to the spirit of Chinese art. Warning: this one is not arranged in chronological order. Instead, it has chapters on sculpture, calligraphy, and so on.

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